The sound of laughter echoed throughout the castle, and Morteus was overwhelmed by the blissful desire to weep in joy. They were all sitting around the long table that now stretched out along the main hall, the chandeliers reflecting happiness off all their faces.
“Everything’s sorted out now,” Darius said, and Morteus turned, still not used to him being so optimistic. Once the soldiers had found Darius and sent him to the doctors, they found that the sword had missed his main arteries and organs by millimeters. When he regained consciousness and Periphral explained everything to him, Darius had embraced his sister and even asked Morteus to forgive him. Any enmity that he once bore against Morteus had vanished.
Darren smiled, patting Darius on the soldier. Morteus felt a pang of guilt as he looked at Darren’s arm, which was heavily wrapped in bandages. Somehow he didn’t feel as guilty sticking a sword in Darius than he did slicing open his best friend’s arm.
“Morteus,” King Periphral beamed at everyone, his gaze lingering on Morteus’ face. “You and your family are welcome to stay for as long as you like,” his face twisted a little, as if he were contemplating a hard decision. “I would hand the castle over to you, because it is rightfully yours. But Alistair isn’t here to govern it anymore…” His voice trailed off, and Morteus felt sadness ebb at his ecstasy.
Morteus’ mother, Antoinette, shook her head. “Today’s a day for celebrations. Let’s not bring back sad memories and mistakes of the past. The castle is yours, Periphral,” She smiled and resumed her conversation with Isabelle. Morteus was reminded of the meadow he had visited with Periphral. Everything had resumed to its blissful vibrancy, resumed from fifteen years before.
Periphral looked at Lancelot and Morteus. “The throne is rightfully yours.”
Lancelot gave a sly smile. “As much as I would like to accept the throne, I think it would be best for this country if it remained yours. The people can’t face another big change.”
Marlin chuckled in hoarse laughter, and nudged Morteus. “Well, son, what do you say?” He turned his watchful gaze on him.
Morteus nodded, agreeing. “I’m too young for the throne anyways. And-” He glanced at Darius, his face amused with disbelief. “I’m not sure Darius would be too thrilled, despite his new attitude.”
Periphral gave a hoarse chuckle. “That’s settled, then. I thank you, Morteus, and Lancelot-” He cast his serious gaze on them, “And am honored that you’ve put our differences behind us, and forgiven me for all the trials and tribulations you were put through. And-” He added, his voice low. “I have to tell you that your father was a great man, and though I know this subject may be hard for you to cope with, but he was one of the most noble men I’ve ever met.”
Morteus saw tears of gratitude in Lancelot’s eyes. “You don’t know how much that meant to me,” Lancelot said. “Thank you.”
“Alright,” Periphral smiled dismissively and raised his voice, swishing the wine around his glass. “Let’s begin the feast to celebrate this joyous day, shall we? After fifteen years of searching for her, my daughter has been found!” He grinned at Isoldé, and cheers went up from the officials and advisors that were gathered there. “But let’s not forget all those that have sacrificed their lives today to protect this castle,” his voice was somber. “To our heros!”
“To our heros,” They raised their glasses, then gulped down the wine.
Commander Violetta and Captain Vailos stood up. “We would like to confer awards for valor and gallantry upon those soldiers who lost their lives today,” They said in unison. There was a line of posthumous awards hung up on the castle wall. “They will be honored for centuries,” The hall fell silent for a moment in respect, and then they sat down.
“Let the festivities begin!” King Periphral rose and clapped his hands twice, and at once waiters and waitresses poured in, the smell of roast turkey, baked puddings and pies wafting through the air.
“How did you get here?” Morteus asked his mother over the crows of delight that came from the officials.
Antoinette turned upon hearing her name. “When I spoke to you that morning, Morteus, Commander Violetta had already captured me. She threatened to kill you if I didn’t help stall, so she could capture you and bring you back to Periphral. Of course, now I know she didn’t really mean it…” She smiled at Violetta, who looked apologetic.
Morteus nodded. “I see now…” His attention was diverted when he caught sight of Isoldé, who had pushed her chair back and stood up, her dress cascading to the floor in a diamond studded trail. She walked gracefully over to him and bent down, her hair sweeping over his shoulder.
“Thank you,” Isoldé said earnestly. “For bringing back my family. For making everything clear to me,” her eyes were dancing feverishly from the excitement.
“Your welcome,” Morteus smiled. “And did I mention-” The words got stuck in his throat. “You look very beautiful tonight.”
“Thank you,” Isoldé smiled, her eyes sparkling. She swept up and strode back to her seat, her long curls bouncing and her white dress trailing after her.
Morteus stared after her and smiled to himself.
“She’s a stunner, isn’t she?” Morteus jumped when Lancelot whispered in his ear. He turned pink and looked down at his toes.
Marlin laughed, taking a swig of beer. His scarred face was as red as a beetroot. “Ah, you boys are still young, you should seize your moment!” He rocked back and forth on his chair, clearly a little tipsy.
“I’m hungry,” Morteus ignored the pair of them and turned to the delicious food in front of them. “Let’s eat!”
Lancelot looked smug as he piled food on his plate, shaking his head. “I knew it,” he muttered to himself, smiling.
Morteus ignored him, gulping down the food. He hadn’t eaten anything since last morning. “I guess everything’s settled then,” Morteus said. “Nothing left to do but to continue with our lives,” he felt cheerful now that everything was clear.
“No, there’s one thing left to be done,” Periphral said, turning to him. “One last thing that cannot be forgotten.”
“What is that?” Morteus asked, mystified.
Morteus stared at the dancing flames. It was a small gathering; only his family, Isoldé’s family, and Commander Violetta and Captain Vailos were there. Isoldé stood beside him, enraptured by the flickering of the fire.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” He murmured to King Periphral.
“Yes,” he said. “I’m not going to change my mind this time around,” he said, his face set.
Queen Isabelle and Antoinette were both gazing at the flames, entranced. Lancelot was holding his mother’s hand.
This was the final move. This was the decision to abolish something powerful, yet so potent. To destroy something that yielded both good and evil. Something that had stirred everyone’s deepest, darkest imaginations.
Periphral stepped forward. He had wrapped the gem in a little brown package. Periphral patted it, as if getting rid of the dust. Then he unwrapped it, and Morteus eyed the glimmering gem. The light that reflected off its shining surface made it seem like there was a teardrop glittering on the coruscating surface.
“This is the ending of a gem that caused more harm tflichan good,” King Periphral said in a low voice, and Morteus half expected singers to start chanting dirges for this inanimate object that seemed to have a history and life of its own.
“Let it wreak havoc on the world no more,” King Periphral said, and threw the gem into the flames in one sudden movement.
There was a long moment of silence as they all stared at the crackling fire that lit up the evening sky. Twinkling stars dappled the dark expanse of blue, and only the chirping of the birds and insects interrupted the tranquil silence.
Isoldé put her hand in Morteus’ and leaned against his shoulder. “I suppose that’s the end of it,” she said. They stood around the fire as the flames danced up and down. The moon shone brighter, casting its pearly white light on the trees.
“No, this isn’t the end,” Morteus turned away from the fire and looked into Isoldé’s eyes.
“This is just the beginning.”